2012 Top Stories
Climate Story Of The Year: Extreme Weather From Superstorms To Drought Emerges As Political, Scientific Gamechanger.
Rebecca Solnit reflects on 2012.
|U.S. Climate Change Plan Would Let All Countries Set Their Own Goals, Gains Grudging Support At UN Talks|
|Shell to drill world’s deepest offshore oil well in Gulf of Mexico|
By John Upton It's getting harder to find the oil needed to fill 'er up.Shutterstock / TupungatoIt's getting harder to find the oil to fill 'er up. Royal Dutch Shell plans to stick its oil-extracting tentacles deeper under the Gulf of Mexico than any oil company ever has.
Shell is preparing to drill 9,500 feet -- nearly two miles -- beneath the surface of the sea to suck oil out of a reserve that was discovered eight years ago, 200 miles southeast of New Orleans. The deepest oil well currently in operation, at 8,000 feet deep, is operated nearby in the Gulf, also by Shell. The quest for deeper wells reflects advancing technology and increasing desperation as shallower reserves dry up More
|Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations Surpass 400 PPM Milestone|
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide surpassed a notable milestone this week. They reached a daily average above 400 parts per million, reported NOAA, for the first time in human history.
The milestone, hit on May 9, may be symbolic, notes Climate Central, but manmade CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels continue to rise, bringing greater atmospheric warming and exacerbating the effects of climate change. Scientists argue we've loaded the "climate dice" in favor of more weather anomalies and extreme heat waves.
Research also shows that continued emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide will mean "largely irreversible" climate change for 1,000 years even after we curtail emissions. "The last time we're confident that CO2 was sustained at these levels is more than 10 million years ago, during the middle of the Miocene period," climate scientist Michael Mann told The Huffington Post in an email. "This was a time when global temperatures were substantially warmer than today, and there was very little ice around anywhere on the planet."
Readings are taken at the NOAA-operated Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and form part of the Keeling Curve -- a continuous record of CO2 measurements dating back to 1958. Bubbles found inside Antarctic ice core samples provide a longer record of CO2 in the air for the past 800,000 years.
CO2 measurements surpassed 400 ppm in the Arctic last summer, but the readings from Hawaii mark the first time prolonged levels above 400 ppm have been observed at more moderate latitudes.
Global carbon dioxide levels fluctuate over the course of the year, reaching an annual peak in May. LiveScience explains that the cycle reveals how trees and vegetation remove more CO2 from the air during the summer, until the annual minimum is reached in October.
"Take this day and the milestone it represents to reflect on the fragility of our civilization and and the planetary ecosystem on which it depends," Al Gore urged on Friday. "We must take immediate action to solve this crisis. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. Now."
350.org founder Bill McKibben said in a statement emailed to HuffPost, "The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it." Related: and XL update
|ExxonMobil’s tar-sands pipeline leaks again|
By John Upton
ExxonMobil’s 1940s-era Pegasus pipeline has been shut down since it ruptured more than a month ago in the Arkansas town of Mayflower, spilling tar-sands oil and making a big mess. But the company is legendary when it comes to spilling oil, and it wasn’t going to let a little pipeline shutdown hold back its oil-spilling ways. The very same pipeline that blackened Mayflower has leaked oil into a yard and killed plants in Doniphan, Mo., some 170 miles northeast of Mayflower. Co claims it's part of new great distribution strategy link
|U.S. Climate Change Plan Would Let All Countries Set Their Own Goals, Gains Grudging Support At UN Talks|
By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle
BONN, Germany, May 2 (Reuters) - A U.S.-led plan to let all countries set their own goals for fighting climate change is gaining grudging support at U.N. talks, even though the current level of pledges is far too low to limit rising temperatures substantially.
The approach, being discussed this week at 160-nation talks in Bonn, Germany, would mean abandoning the blueprint of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set central goals for industrialised countries to cut emissions by 2012 and then let each work out national implementation.
Attempts to agree a successor to Kyoto have foundered above all on a failure to agree on the contribution that developing countries should make to curbing the industrial emissions responsible for global warming - greenhouse gases. The next ministerial conference to try to reach a deal is scheduled for Paris in 2015. The United States, recently overtaken by China as the world's biggest carbon polluter, never ratified Kyoto because it set no binding emissions cuts for rapidly growing economies such as China and India. President Barack Obama's administration now says each nation should define its "contribution" to a new U.N. accord - a weaker word than past U.S. demands for national "commitments".
Elliot Diringer, executive director of a Washington-based think-tank, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said there was "a growing acceptance of nationally defined approaches, with a big 'But'".
Trigg Talley, head of the U.S. delegation, noted that the agreement "will need to be applicable to all".
And even if all countries agree to participate, all sides say the initial national promises will be insufficient to rein in greenhouse gases, which are rising by about 3 percent a year even though economic growth is weak in many regions.
Under the U.S. plan, contributions might be submitted 6 months before the Paris summit, giving some time for a non-binding review to strengthen plans. The pact is due to enter into force from 2020.
Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said it was already clear that promised emissions cuts would fall short of the level needed to prevent the global temperature rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.
Temperatures are already up by about 0.8 degree C (1.4F).
"The challenge for the 2015 agreement is precisely to bridge that gap," she said. "The process is not on track with respect to the demands of science."
International scientists say it is highly likely that high levels of greenhouse gases are already changing the climate and that it is at least 90 percent probable that human activities are the main cause. In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization said on Thursday that 2012 was the ninth warmest year since records began in the 19th century. Among extremes, Arctic sea ice shrank to a record low and Superstorm Sandy battered the United States.
Many emerging nations are still holding out in Bonn for binding common targets, especially for rich countries. But securing a bigger role by the United States might mean accepting a relatively weak accord in 2015.
Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute think-tank said the negotiation process was a "dance". "People want to make sure the United States is in, but many are deeply worried about what that may mean," she said.
The United States and China did agree last month to work more closely together on climate change, saying they hoped it would inspire action by others. Many delegates welcomed the plan, but said the two emitters have not led in the past.
|2012 Was Ninth-Hottest Year Since 1850, 'Worrisome Sign' Of Climate Change, UN's Weather Agency Says|
GENEVA (AP) — The World Meteorological Organization says last year was the ninth-warmest since record-keeping began in 1850, despite the cooling effect of the weather pattern called La Nina. The U.N.'s weather agency says this marks the 27th year in a row the global average temperature — 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14.45 degrees Celsius) in 2012 — surpassed the 1961-1990 average.
WMO said in annual climate report Thursday the years from 2001 to 2012 were all among the top 13 warmest on record — the hottest being 2010, when the average temperature was 58.2 degrees F (14.6 degrees C). WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud says "sustained warming of the lower atmosphere is a worrisome sign" of global warming despite La Nina, which is the flip side of El Nino and generally cools the oceans globally.
|Solar panels could destroy U.S. utilities, according to U.S. utilities|
Solar power and other distributed renewable energy technologies could lay waste to U.S. power utilities and burn the utility business model, which has remained virtually unchanged for a century, to the ground. That is not wild-eyed hippie talk. It is the assessment of the utilities themselves. More
|4/20||87 percent of supermarket meat — including beef, pork, chicken, and turkey products — tests positive for normal and antibiotic-resistant forms of Enterococcus bacteria.|
|A River of Tar Sands Crude Floods an Arkansas Town|
|4/19||20 homes were evacuated as the result of a major blowout along ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline, which pushes up to 90,000 barrels of heavy Canadian tar sands crude from terminals in Illinois to refineries in Texas. Officials estimate the spill released more than 200,000 gallons of the thick tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada—referred to by Exxon as Wabasca Heavy crude but considered tar sands by authorities in Canada. The carbon-rich oil is mixed with chemical additives called diluents to flow though pipelines.|
|Monsanto Announces $1.48 Billion Profit Amid 'Monsanto Protection Act' Controversy|
|3/18||Monsanto says its net income increased 22 percent in the second quarter on strong sales of its biotech seeds.
The agricultural products company boosted its full-year earnings guidance, citing its strong performance in the first two quarters.
The news of the profit boost comes as critics slam lawmakers for including in legislation a provision, dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act," that would shield the company from lawsuits over health risks related to genetically modified seeds, according to CBS News.
Critics claim the provision would put the company and other similar firms above the law by eliminating officials' ability to block the sale of the seeds even if they prove dangerous to consumers, according to CBS.
The St. Louis company says it earned $1.48 billion, or $2.74 per share in the three months ended Feb. 13. That compares to earnings of $1.21 billion, or $2.24 per share, a year ago.
Revenue climbed 15 percent to $5.47 billion.
Analysts polled by FactSet expected Monsanto to report earnings of $2.56 per share on sales of $5.27 billion in revenue for the quarter.
Monsanto has dominated the bioengineered-seed business for more than a decade. In recent years the company has focused on growing business in emerging markets like Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries.
|Whole Foods will grow rooftop greens in a Superfund site|
By Sarah Laskow
The Whole Food site in Gowanus, Brooklyn, doesn't look like much yet. Actually, in general, Gowanus doesn't look like much these days -- it's a once-industrial neighborhood that's increasingly being taken over by pickling factories and music studios. You can walk whole blocks without passing by much except maybe a coffin wholesaler, and then hit upon a corner where there's a pie place, a barbecue joint, and a home-brew shop.
It also smells bad, fairly often. Because this is where the Gowanus Canal is, and that’s still a Superfund site. The city's sewage system still dumps overflow into it during storms. It is actually possible, if you're lucky, to see poop float by.
So, here comes Whole Foods, a company that likes to talk about being local and green, and on top of its new, big store here, it's going to build a rooftop farm. A 20,000-square-foot rooftop farm.More
|Gene discovery could breed veggies for a warmer planet|
By Susie Cagle
The nearly $2 billion lettuce industries of California and Arizona are likely to get mighty wilted as temperatures in those hot states continue to rise. But science is here to save the day -- with GMOs.
A research team with USDA and National Science Foundation funding has identified a lettuce gene and enzyme that make the plants stop germinating when it's too hot -- so now scientists hope to tweak those lettuces to grow even when they naturally wouldn't. Currently growers have to cool soil and seeds with extra cool water, at great expense. The study, published in the journal The Planet Cell, was a collaboration between scientists at India's Ranga Agricultural University, the University of California at Davis, and scientists from Arcadia Biosciences. more
|An urban farming oasis is saved from the bulldozer blade|
By Laura Onstot
There is one thing no gardener wants to hear: “Don’t plant this spring.” But that’s the word Angela Stanbery-Ebner received in February while plotting out the year’s crops at her garden in urban Cincinnati. No tomatoes this year, no chard, no selling at the farmers market, no community-supported agriculture operation run by neighborhood youth for low-income families.
Stanbery-Ebner’s garden, known as the Eco Garden, isn’t your standard backyard fare. It’s an agricultural oasis in a Cincinnati neighborhood better known for its crime than its heirloom carrots. Unfortunately for the Eco Garden, it doesn’t own the land on which it sits, the city does. This year, as part of its initiative to encourage urban development — known as CitiRama — the city started eyeing it for housing.
When the gardeners got the news, “we were basically devastated,” Stanbery-Ebner says. Out went the emails, an online petition, and calls to the city council in an effort to save one of the most vibrant corners of a rough-around-the-edges neighborhood. more
|EPA sued over failure to protect bees from pesticides|
|3/26||The battle for the bees is headed to court. Beekeepers and activist groups, fed up with the wanton use of insecticides that kill bees and other pollinators, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday. They are suing to try to force the EPA to ban or better regulate neonicotinoids and other pesticides that kill bees and butterflies and lead to colony collapse disorder.
From a press release put out by the Center for Food Safety, one of the plaintiffs in the case:
“Beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that EPA needs to protect bees. The agency has refused, so we’ve been compelled to sue,” said Center for Food Safety attorney, Peter T. Jenkins. “EPA’s unlawful actions should convince the Court to suspend the approvals for clothianidin and thiamethoxam products until those violations are resolved.” More
|Dean Kamen's Slingshot Aims To Bring Fresh Water To The World|
A recent invention called the Slingshot could provide freshwater to those with some of the most limited access. Inventor Dean Kamen, best known as the man behind the Segway, has partnered with Coca-Cola to place his machines throughout developing nations in Africa and Central America in hopes of eliminating the millions of deaths each year related to waterborne disease.
More than 783 million people don't have access to clean water and 37 percent don't have access to sanitation facilities, facts highlighted by the UN during World Water Day last week. The device can take any form of potentially contaminated liquid and distill it into something safe to drink -- by evaporating the water and then condensing the steam, leaving pathogens behind. Kamen even joked in a 2008 interview with Steven Colbert that the Slingshot could sanitize a 50-gallon drum of urine. More
|Summer rains in Southwest arriving late because of climate change|
As if the parched Southwestern U.S. didn't have enough problems already, here's another one. The quenching storms that take the edge off the scorching heat near parts of the U.S.-Mexico border during the hottest months are arriving later than they used to. New research indicates that climate change could push their arrival back nearly until the fall by the end of the century.
That's because it's becoming more difficult for rain-forming clouds to materialize until the atmosphere becomes saturated later in the summer season, when the skies finally explode in rainstorms over parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northwestern Mexico.
The fallout from a substantially delayed monsoon season, which is predicted in a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, could include crop failures and increasingly uncomfortable summers.
|Whole Foods, Trader Joe's And Others Vow Not To Sell GMO Fish|
If it gets final approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the salmon would be the first genetically engineered animal to enter this country's human food supply. The United States already is the world's largest market for foods made with genetically altered plant ingredients. AquaBounty says its "AquAdvantage Salmon" can grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon, saving time and resources. The fish is essentially Atlantic salmon with a Pacific salmon gene for faster growth and a gene from the eel-like ocean pout that promotes year-round growth.
Critics say such genetically modified products are not sufficiently tested for safety, carry allergy risks and should be labeled. Proponents disagree and say the products are safe.
|Green Job Growth Outpaced All Other Industries 2010-2011|
For people looking to put their finances in the black, a new report suggests they may be wise to look green.
That's according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that breaks down employment in green goods and services through 2011. As first pointed out by the LA Times, the report shows "green jobs" growing from 2010 through 2011 at a rate 4 times faster than all other industries combined.
The BLS defines green jobs as those that produce goods or services "that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources," or jobs "in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources."
As of 2011, green jobs accounted for 2.6 percent of all jobs in the economy, for a total just north of 3.4 million jobs. Construction lead the charge in the private sector, with an employment increase from 7.0 to 8.9 percent (slightly more than 100,000 jobs) between 2010 and 2011.
|Frankenfoods hitch a ride through Congress|
|3/18||Remember that one time? In Congress? When an anonymous group of House Republicans tried and failed to sneak a rider into the farm bill that would have exempted agribusiness from liability for biotech crops and all but eliminated the government’s power to regulate them? Good times.
Well, the implosion of the farm bill did nothing to stop Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, et al’s quest to insulate themselves from lawsuits. Maybe it has something to do with the rise of superweeds and superbugs resistant to their products and the fact that commodity farmers are just maybe starting to take a hard look at the costs versus the benefits of the current and coming crop of genetically modified seeds. Or perhaps it’s simply a desire to complete their dominance of U.S. agriculture.
Whatever the reason, the so-called “Monsanto rider” is back, this time thanks to an anonymous senator, or group of senators, who have attached it to the must-pass “Continuing Resolution” that will keep the government operating as of March 27. Let me just say that when it comes to Congress — which is chockablock with men and women desperate for media attention — whenever you hear the word “anonymous” attached to anything, you know you there’s something sketchy going on. More
|A Green Pope?|
|3/18|| VATICAN CITY, March 19 (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Tuesday issued a strong appeal for the protection of the environment and the defence of the weakest members of society, urging the world to shun, "the omens of destruction and death".
"It means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about," he said in the homily of his inaugural Mass.
Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, took his name in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, a symbol of poverty, charity and love of nature. (Reporting By Philip Pullella and Catherine Hornby)
|Storm Surge Risk Amplified By Climate Change, Study Finds|
Global warming has already doubled the risk of Hurricane Katrina-magnitude storm surges in the U.S., according to a new study published Monday. The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimates that for every 1.8°F increase in global average surface temperatures, there could be a two-fold to seven-fold increase in the risk of Katrina-magnitude surge events. The latest climate projections call for the globe to warm by between 3.2°F and 7.2°F by 2100, depending on future greenhouse gas emissions and the precise sensitivity of the climate system to such pollutants.
|Extreme weather and GMO crops devastate monarch butterfly migration|
It's not so much the butterfly effect as the butterfly affected: We knew monarchs had it bad as of late, but there was some hope for their winter migration -- until scientists conducted a census. In just two years, the annual migration of North American monarch butterflies has declined by 59 percent, and scientists are blaming extreme weather and "changed farming practices," according to the New York Times. In other words, monster storms and monster Monsanto. 
|U.N. to poor people: Sorry, pollution and warming will hit you hardest|
By Susie Cagle
It's that time of year again. You're enjoying unseasonably warm weather / digging out from under an unexpected snow storm, looking forward to a summer full of invasive mosquitos, and oh, what's this? Why, it's another U.N. Human Development Report with terrible news about the planet! The report celebrates advances in developing countries, improved conditions for the poor, and the "dramatic rebalancing of economic power" worldwide, i.e. the rise of Brazil, China, and India to crush Western white people. But it warns all that could be lost with climate change, deforestation, and air and water pollution. As usual, and as noted in past U.N. reports, the poor have the most to lose. More
|Wind power is poised to kick nuclear’s ass|
|3/15||In 2012, wind energy became the fastest-growing source of new electricity generation in the U.S., providing 42 percent of new generation capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Wind power is becoming so cheap and so commonplace that it appears poised to help blow up the country's nuclear power sector, according to a recent Bloomberg article (which you really should read in full). More|
|Calories make you fat, but sugary calories make you fat and diabetic|
|3/11||Two new books out this week on sugar and processed foods. Related: NYC judge throws out Bloomberg’s big sugar drink ban more|